I am lucky to have tasted the culinary creations of Hélène Darroze on several occasions. Her restaurant at the Connaught Hotel is renowned for its spectacular food and exemplary service. Using rich memories of her upbringing in south west France, her beautiful cuisine illustrates a love of fine ingredients and family heritage but also an imaginative spirit that means her ideas evolve as she travels more of the world.
A few weeks ago I dined at the exclusive Hélène Darroze Sommelier’s Table Supperclub, along with a group of London’s top food bloggers. Beneath the kitchens, down a discreet staircase, the chilly cellar is found. Holding an impressive collection of valuable, exceptional even, bottles of wine, this cellar is only used for the most elite meals, a special hideaway for wine connoisseurs and food lovers.
A seven course menu was designed specially by Hélène for the occasion, and master Sommelier Mirko Benzo selected unique vintages to complement each course. Sitting around the grand circular table, I felt like we had travelled back in time, a regal feast in a secret cellar. It is an enlightening experience tasting dishes with wine that balances so miraculously with every ingredient and flavour. We were invited to blind taste the wine initially, a task which I did spectacularly badly at, but one that really stirred my interest in this world.
Meanwhile Hélène’s head chef Alex Dilling was presenting plates of food that thrilled the Instagrammers round the table. Caviar with crab, radish and hass avocado looked like a dreamy garden in the bowl. Foie gras with wild strawberry, rhubarb and lemon verbena looked pretty, pink and perfect, but was complex and sophisticated in taste, the sweetest of the fruit cutting through the rich smooth foie gras. Coco bean with eel and shimeji then Lobster with asparagus, botargo and seaweed followed. The kitchen continued to wow with luxurious ingredients prepared in inventive and delicious ways.
Though I can be squeamish the Sweetbread course was a resounding success around the table, I heard whispers of ‘this is the best dish I’ve tasted all year’… which is high praise from people who eat and judge food for a living! The sweetbread was like very tender pork, paired with earthy indulgent morels, fresh seasonal asparagus and vin jaune (from the Jura region of France). It was paired with a glass of 2008 Gevry-Chambertin “Les Jeunes Rois”, Domaine Geantet-Pansiot.
For the double dessert extravaganza (courses six and seven) I had to engage my second stomach. Traditional Baba Armagnac (using the Darroze family Armagnac) was up first. A light but boozy treat accompanied by strawberries and fluffy banana cream. I imagine it would be the kind of grown-up dessert James Bond would order when out on a date. The second dessert – Chocolate with ginger and bourbon vanilla provoked childish oohs and ahhs from the team of eaters. Once all the photographic evidence of the chocolate masterpiece had been recorded, the table was silent as we consumed the delightfully indulgent pudding.
Satisfied and stunned by the array of culinary creations and magical wine journey we had experienced, we ate our final mouthfuls of French patisserie and sipped the last of the dessert wine before saying our goodbyes and stepping back into the real world upstairs.
More information on the Sommelier’s Table here, learn more about Hélène Darroze here.